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  • Antisana Eco-Reserve and Tambo Condor

    November 23, 2017 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    Even a lingering fever and a mostly sleepless night induced by altitude related breathing difficulties couldn't put a damper on breathtaking scenery and spectacular birds in the Ecuadorian páramo. Our journey began at the rustic Tambo Condor, a small lodge and restaurant near the entrance of the Antisana Ecological Reserve. The fixture of Tambo Condor is the quaint restaurant housed in a dimly lit wood and stone cabin, warmed by a crackling fire and serving traditional Andean cuisine, the walls not quite thick enough to contain the undending whistled refrain of Tawny Antpittas and cheery warble of Rufous-collared Sparrows drifting in from the surrounding pastures and shrublands. The porch and yard around the restaurant is adorned with multiple hummingbird feeders and large picture windows allow you to marvel at some spectacular high elevation specialties like Sparkling Violetear, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Shining Sunbeam, Great Sapphirewing, Tyrian Metaltail and of course the king of all hummers, the Giant Hummingbird. Most birders come here for the Andean Condors and the small lodge, perched on the edge of a cliff just down the hill from the restaurant offers outstanding views of the surrounding steep hillsides that tower over the far below lake and the boulder-strewn mountain torrent that drains into it. We were not there at the right time of year to observe nesting birds but got great looks at two adults and a juvenile picking out their night roost on the opposing cliffs and then preening on their cliff side aerie the following morning. As for the lodge and the views, the photo out the window of our bedroom pretty much speaks for itself.

    Tambo Condor has also apparently become something of a hub of conservation activity and its tourism in the area. Aside from hosting various bird tour groups and individual birders like ourselves and being funded by the Peregrine Fund to provide valuable Andean Condor nesting data, they also played host to a gathering or local and regional conservation groups during or stay there (which, sadly prevented us from getting one more excellent meal there on or way back to the Quito airport).

    From Tambo Condor, we headed up the mountain to the nearby Antisana Ecological Reserve a vast expanse of high elevation páramo that protects the area surrounding the Volcán Antisana. Mile upon mile of rolling, austere grasslands were punctuated by fields filled with dozens of Carunculated Caracaras of all ages, presumably hunting for insects and perhaps lizards amongst the bunch grasses. Andean Gulls rested by the hundreds some in the middle of the road, some tucked within the sparse vegetation. A family of Andean Lapwings foraged alongside the road, the tiny, spotted fluff ball chicks hiding beneath their mother when we got too close, then emerging after a few restless minutes of inactivity to forage and explore their new world once again.

    The end of or road brought us to the Laguna Micacocha, a massive dammed body of water that provides drinking water for many of the surrounding communities. The trail down to the lake passed through a beautiful community of chest-high shrubs that was shockingly reminiscent of North American Great Basin sage and rabbitbrushes, many in bloom with little white or yellow daisy-like flowers. The buzzes and trills of Sedge Wrens and Many-striped Canasteros provided the soundtrack and the occasional Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, Stout-billed Cinclodes and Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant would flush from the trail ahead. Down at the lake, amongst a smattering of ducks and coots, we were able to get our first looks at the juninensis subspecies of the Silvery Grebe.
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